Sometimes stupidity works. Take the exit sign on the old Mitchell Street Car Wash in Norwich; it was one of the most effective signs in the history of signage and it wasn’t even spelled correctly.
If you don’t remember the car wash – located where the empty of the two Rite Aids sits now – it was a tuck’s pad short of being a logistical hemorrhoid. The building ran parallel lengthwise to Mitchell Street and was blocked in on three sides. There was only one entrance. To enter, you had to needle your car through a narrow opening at the far end of the building and drive around back. That way when you pulled into one of the three wash bays you would be facing Mitchell Street. It was a complicated set-up for a car wash, but it was the easiest way to get in and out.
To prevent people from driving into an open bay and jamming up what was a sensitive traffic operation, a car wash associate put up a sign out front. It read “EIXT” in big red letters. That’s right, E-I-X-T. Sweet phonics. What’s even better is they didn’t correct it for years. And it’s not like nobody noticed.
Let’s forget about the sign being spelled wrong for a minute; this was stupid by smart people standards for a couple reasons. For starters, an exit sign indicates a way out. It’s an invitation: “Come this way if you want to leave.” So, putting an exit sign somewhere where you don’t want people to ever go essentially defeats the purpose. Not to mention the drivers exiting couldn’t even see it. Technically, they should have put up a sign out front that read “Not An Entrance,” “Wrong Way,” or “Use Entrance At Right.” Plus, if people were pulling in to wash their car and all they saw were exit signs, some might think “Exit? I haven’t even entered yet.”
Truth is, misspelling a four-letter word that’s plastered over every doorway in every public place in America – not to mention it’s one of the staple kindergarten flash cards – turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the car wash. It was such a bonehead mistake that it helped patrons to better understand where the person(s) who made the misplaced sign were coming from. It’s like how we can only understand gibberish if it’s coming from a two-year-old.
“Eek-sst? Ee-ix-tah? Oh I get it, they’re trying to tell me to pull around in a working-at-a-car wash sort of way.”
The best part about the sign is that people actually adhered to it. If it had been spelled right, or displayed a clear message like “Do Not Enter,” the majority of people probably would have ignored it.
“Honestly, only nerds follow car wash regulations,” they’d likely say.
But because they had to work so hard to understand what E-I-X-T actually meant, they didn’t have time to make a conscious effort to break the rules like Americans normally do. They were just psyched to figure it out.
“Phew. Good thing I didn’t pull in the wrong spot,” they’d likely say, wiping off their brow. “I’m guessing it’s probably not the best idea to anger people who can’t spell exit.”
If the Mitchell Street Car Wash were still there, it would be my car wash of choice. Mostly because “EIXT” was unique, and told us something in a Norwich-sort-of-way. It was always good for a laugh, too. Also because, although accidentally, it was genius. “Man, how on God’s green earth could they spell that wrong?” I’d stay up nights wondering. “And why on God’s green earth don’t they fix it?” And if people were like me, that mystery was the reason you went there instead of another car wash that was probably newer, cheaper and had better waxing options.
Not bad for a stupid mistake.